On Sunday 25 April it will be exactly thirty-five years since the .nl domain came into being. It was just a few days after .nl's creation, on 1 May 1986, that the very first .nl domain name – cwi.nl – was registered. Since then, more than six million others have been added. Back in '86, .nl was the first active country-code domain outside the US. And today it remains the world's fifth-largest national domain in absolute numerical terms.
The creation of .nl was down to Piet Beertema, then Systems Administrator at Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) = the national research institute for mathematics and computer science in Amsterdam - and his colleagues. In those days, every internet-connected computer had a unique seven-character name. However, there were already 25,000 connected computers and the naming system had reached its limits. With the aim of keeping things manageable, a new system based on domain names was therefore devised. And Beertema came up with the idea of applying for the Netherlands to have its own top-level domain within that system. After getting approval for .nl, he developed a DIY package for colleagues around Europe, enabling them to register domains for their countries as well. Soon most European countries had their own domains.
Formation of SIDN
In the early years, Beertema dealt with all .nl registration requests himself. After all, there were only ninety in the first two years. Gradually, however, the demand for domain names grew. By 1995, Beertema was handling about seven hundred applications a month. The registration process was entirely manual in those days, so that meant a lot of work for one person. In 1996, therefore, the CWI, SURFnet and NLnet got together to set up SIDN to assume responsibility for the entire .nl registration process. So .nl's thirty-fifth anniversary is also SIDN's twenty-fifth.
SIDN's creation didn't mean that Beertema immediately withdrew. For the first year of the foundation's existence, he still processed all the registrations. In total, he handled the registration of the first ten thousand .nl domain names. It's with good reason that Beertema became known as the Godfather of Dot-NL and still holds the matching domain name, godfatherof.nl!
Rapid growth from 2003
Since 2003, private individuals have been able to get .nl domain names, which were previously reserved for businesses and other organisations. The rule change marked the start of an unparalleled surge in the number of .nl domain names. From one million domain names in 2003, .nl grew to four million in 2010, five million in 2012 and six million last year. The .nl domain is therefore one of the most successful country-code domains in the world.
In parallel with the quantitative growth, SIDN has overseen a substantial increase in the quality of the .nl domain and the Dutch internet. Since August 2012, it's been possible to protect .nl domain names using DNSSEC. And, in September 2014, SIDN Fund was established. The Fund is an operationally independent foundation tasked with providing support to projects that make the internet stronger. Meanwhile, SIDN's research team, SIDN Labs, has built a strong reputation for applied research aimed at making the internet's infrastructure more secure and more resilient. Another example of SIDN's contribution to the quality of the Dutch internet infrastructure is the IRMA privacy-friendly identity platform, run in partnership with Privacy by Design.
A practical and much needed idea
Piet Beertema looks back on .nl's early days with satisfaction. "Technical and practical considerations certainly played a big part in the thinking behind creation of the .nl country-code domain," he says. "However, it was also a question of dire need. And the idea of having a framework of country-code domains has proved to be future-proof. The internet of today and the technology associated with it are radically different from what we had back in the eighties. Yet .nl still meets modern-day requirements. The basic structure of the internet, with devices communicating with one another, has stayed the same."
SIDN's CEO Roelof Meijer is understandably proud to see .nl and SIDN reach their twin milestones. "Where the internet is concerned, the Netherlands is a lead player on the global stage," he says. "The .nl domain's thirty-fifth anniversary clearly illustrates that. However, the growth of SIDN and .nl in the last twenty-five and thirty-five years wouldn't have been possible without the .nl registrars and our other partners. Collaboration has built a robust, secure and stable digital infrastructure that contributes to problem-free, opportunity-rich digital living for everyone in the Netherlands. And that's something to be proud of!"